Astragalus Part 2: A Western Look

How do you do just nothing?
— Winnie the Pooh
Well, when grown ups ask, “what are you going to do?” and you say “nothing,” and then you go and do it.
— Christopher Robin
Some mudra

Some mudra

If you haven’t read Astragalus Part 1:  A Western Look at an Eastern Perspective, please do so.  It will give a more broad perspective, and allow you to read what I think has been learned about the plant in the past few thousand years.  Here you can read what’s been learned in the past hundred years.

Flavonoids are what give astragalus its yellow color.  What’s another yellow food with flavonoids?  Quinoa, brah!  Astragalin, the prominent flavonoid in astragalus is a relative of kaempferol, a potent flavonoid in quinoa.  It’s actually patented as a supercooling agent.  They also contribute to the anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting effects of the plant.

Astragalus contains a group of saponins known as astragalosides.  The most well studied is astragaloside iv.  Some of you may have heard of TA-65.  It’s a supplement that is designed to lengthen your telomeres.  Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences capping the ends of chromosomes.  They provide a buffer from coding DNA and also help keep different chromosomes from joining together.  Every time a chromosome goes through mitosis, producing daughter cells, telomeres are lost.  Eventually, the chromosomes will reach a point where there is too little telomere for the cell to reproduce, at which point it will die (apoptosis).  Telomere length is often used as an indicator of a persons biological age.  I have a BS in Psychology with a focus in neurochemistry from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and we were taught that there’s nothing that can be done about shortening telomeres.  They only move in one direction, the shorter direction.  This is not true.  There were many things we were told that weren’t true, but I though this one was particularly annoying.  How can they say there’s an enzyme that increases the length, but say it’s never present?  

Let me get back on track.  TA-65 has been shown to repair telomeres through the activation of telomerase.  TA-65 is very powerful, and very expensive.  I looked at trying it out once.  It was over $600 a bottle and had to be purchased through a specialist.  I did not try it.  But why am I telling you about this?  Because TA-65 is concentrated astragalus!  More specifically, astragaloside iv.  

I just want to throw in something I think is worth mentioning, before you decide to hop on the telomerase bandwagon, malignant tumors often have elevated telomerase.  I think you can understand why a cancer would want a plentiful supply of telomeres.  I think astragalus, as the whole food, is the better option.  We may want long telomeres, but only on the right chromosomes.  Astragalus root has not only astragaloside iv, but also several other immune boosting factors that could direct where the action will take place.

It also contains a heft quantity of polysaccharides referred to as APS.  Much of the research around them has been directed towards muscle growth.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, because one of Chinese Medicine’s argued benefits of astragalus is it’s ability to help grow flesh.  As a lung tonic, I think this would specifically correlate to the skin.  They also have anti-inflammatory properties, with studies showing it surpassed NF-kB.

In general, polysaccharides are immunomodulators.  These long chain sugars, to me, are more like hormones than macronutrients.  They press buttons.  They’re an active component in many tonic foods.  I came across this study that used the polysaccharides from astragalus as a food source for beneficial gut bacteria!  What an idea!  The goal was to see whether they could enhance the human benefits of the bacteria.  

Interestingly enough, I think that cows like astragalus.  Thinking about bacteria eating astragalus got me wondering.  Mmmm I’m thinking of an astragalus fed raw 5 year aged cheddar.  Don’t bother, I already patented it.   Astragalus isn’t that uncommon can be a hardy plant.  It’s native to China and Mongolia, but grows in the United States as well.  Some farmers plant it to test the quality of the soil.  However, some varieties contain swainsonine and are toxic to livestock.  Those varieties are called “locoweed.”  Guess why.

Thank you for reading!

Astragalus Part 1: A Western look at an Eastern Perspective

Every birth is a condensation and every death is a dispersion. Birth is not a gain, death is not a loss. When condensed, the energy becomes a living being and when dispersed it is the substratum of mutations.
— Chang Cai

Astragalus is another one of my favorite herbs.  It’s actually a legume.  I’ll stop playing favorites when I finish my top 5.  Maybe I can do a break down, astragalus is my favorite qi tonic.  It’s slowly receiving more recognition.  Many people use it in conjunction with other herbs to help treat the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

It originates in Northern China.  Its Chinese name, Huang qi, translates to “Yellow Superior.”  I could see that, it is yellow, and works on the spleen which is also yellow (kind of).  It has a slightly sweet, warming taste.

Astragalus is a well known lung tonic.  It helps clear out pus, and was traditionally used in a blend to treat tuberculosis.  The lungs rule wei qi, which is protective qi.  It’s like your personal forcefield.  It hovers around your body, protecting you from the 6 exogenous evils.  Right now for me, that means dry summer California heat.  Cucumber aloe juice anyone?

A side note:  I’ve come across several sources that say astragalus is great for treating upper respiratory and chest infections, however, I’m under the impression that when illness sets in, tonic herbs should not be taken.

It may not immediately seem obvious, but excessive sweating can be a sign of wei qi deficiency, and in turn, a lung deficiency.  Spontaneous and excessive sweating is a form of “leaking.”  Leaking happens when excessive energy or fluids are lost, that could otherwise be stored.  

Not only does astragalus help regulate the flow of qi, but also of water.  In fact, both are directed together.  You can’t have good water regulation without good qi.  Blood flow is also regulated by qi.  Let’s make this simple, anything that flows in your body is an indicator of how your Qi is moving.

Astragalus stimulates the middle burner (above belly button, below diaphragm).  That’s the spleen and stomach.  As a spleen tonic, it helps move qi upward.  When qi is not circulating optimally, things can fall out of place.  Your organs can sag.  Prolapse can manifest.  It also helps digestion through the same mechanism of moving qi up.  When your qi is moving upward, you’ll have better, more regular bowel movements.

Posture can also be an indicator of how well, or not, qi is flowing.  Try this: sit comfortably, and do a breathing exercise for 2 minutes.  Any exercise.  Watch how your posture changes.  

I’ve heard that some people attribute some of the calming effect of cigarettes to the rhythmic breathing usually used in smoking.  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to induce good breathing techniques though, but it's an interesting thought.

This is my own understanding of the eastern understanding of some of the ways in which astragalus works.  I don’t know anything about eastern medicine, so anyone please feel free to correct me.  The next installment will be my western understanding of astragalus’ benefits.  Thank you for reading, and please comment below if I was unclear or miss-spoke(typed).

The Dopamine Bean

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.
— Salvador Dalí

    I take Mucuna Pruriens on a pretty regular basis even though tolerance is acquired quickly.  The silver lining is that tolerance dissipates just as fast.  M. pruriens an amazing herb.  Commonly known as Velvet Bean, M. pruriens is native to Asia, but is also found in Africa and South America.  It has a long history of use in traditional medicine all over the world.  On top of being a great herb for human consumption, as a legume, it’s a powerful nitrogen fixer.  

    M. pruriens is interesting to me because it contains many powerful neuro-factors, most abundantly and famously, L-DOPA.  In addition, there are also trace amounts of serotonin, 5-HTP (serotonin precursor), nicotine, DMT, and norharmine.  That’s such a dynamic mix!  It contains serotonin and dopamine and both of their precursors.  It contains nicotine and DMT, which are both psychoactive.  To top it off, norharmine is an MAOI, which helps protect the aforementioned substances.  Granted, these are very small percentages and if the effects were noticeable, the plant would be “illegal.”  But it is interesting to me that all of those are found in the same plant.  And even though the dosage is small, the energetics are still there.  Since L-DOPA is found most abundantly, that’s all I’m going to cover for now.



    Levodopa is the precursor to dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline.  The L indicates the chirality of the molecule.  A molecule is chiral if it is asymmetrical; if the mirror image is not the same.  The enantiomer (mirror image) of levodopa is D-DOPA, or dextrodopa.  As far as I know, D-DOPA is not biologically active in humans.  L-DOPA is also a precursor to melanin.

    Dopamine is one of the most abundant hormones in the human body and has its arms and legs in all different kinds of functions.  I prefer to take precursors, as in most cases it’s harder to overdose.  The upside of L-DOPA is that it can cross the blood brain barrier. Once in the central nervous system, it is then decarboxylated (off-carbon) to dopamine.  Inside the brain, dopamine is associated with motor control, motivation and arousal.  The Substantia Nigra contains a large amount of motor related dopaminergic neurons.  Damage here results in Parkinson’s.  “Substantia Nigra” translates (from Latin) to “dark substance,” and is known as such because of the dark pigment of the neurons.  If you’re David Wolfe, you probably already knew this.  I think one of the most interesting uses of dopamine is in the eye.  It’s released in the retina from cells that have no axons.  This only happens in daylight, and enhances visual perception.  The cones become more active, with an increased sensitivity to color and light.

    If you aren’t yet convinced that M. pruriens is a Jing herb, you will be now.  Dopamine is involved in regulating the immune system, including stimulating bone marrow and helping fight cancer through DNA protection and more efficient apoptosis.  Here’s the kicker, there are dopamine receptors inside the kidneys!  The kidneys actually produce dopamine!  Most of dopamine’s actions in the kidneys are related to sodium regulation and blood flow.

    I have been using Sun Potion’s Mucuna Pruriens Extract for a while now and am very satisfied.  Their extract is on average 15% L-DOPA.  The plant material is organically grown in India and cold processed.  To me, there’s not much in it for flavor.  A little smokey perhaps.  It goes really well with He Shou Wu, a potent MAOI-B, or Rhodiola.  Not surprisingly enough, it’s commonly paired with cacao.  Combine the neurotransmitter boosting effects of M. pruriens with theobromine, anandamide, PEA and cacao’s own MAOIs, and you're in for a real party!



Ultimate Party Tonic

400mL of liquid of choice (warm but NOT HOT gynostemma, gotu kola or other favorite tea)

1 Tbsp Cacao

1/2 Tbsp fat (coconut oil/ghee/tocos)

1/2 Tbsp Honey

1/2 tsp Mucuna Pruriens Extract

1/2 tsp He Shou Wu Estract

1/2 tsp Rhodiola Extract

1/8 tsp Sea Salt


Mix/Blend and enjoy!

My Longtime Friend, He Shou Wu

If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exaltation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up next morning with a clear head and an undamaged constitution — then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and earth would become paradise.
— Aldous Huxley

It’s obvious to me that Huxley is referring to He Shou Wu.


    Everyone’s on drugs.  The definition of drug is so loose, I think everything is a drug.  According to “Dictionary” on my mac, a drug is a “substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”  I went to school for psychology, among other things, because one day it hit me, everything we ingest is psychotropic, we may just not notice it.  In the health community, I always hear “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” but I think what people don’t understand is, today’s version of store-bought spinach is not medicine, and not really food.  Don’t get me wrong, spinach is great, but it ain’t what it used to be.  We have to go back to the ur-food.  Food grown in the same environment with which we live, that can thrive with little interference from us.  The problem with that is that we aren’t even suited to our environment.  Maybe it’s because we ate weak food!

    One of my top foods/medicines is He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum, Chinese Knotweed).  In case you don’t know the story, it’s about this older guy, Mr. He.  He was upset that his hair was gray, he had no kids, was feeling less than optimal and was approaching 60.  There are several versions of the story, this is my take.  So he was feeling weak, and was bitching around town.  Someone said “here, eat this plant,” so he did.  His hair returned to black, his vitality increased, went on to father several children and lived to be like 150 years old!  The name “He Shou Wu” loosely translates to “Mr. He’s Black Hair.”  

    I don’t know exactly why he shou wu is one of my favorites, but I can speculate.  It’s a restorative, yin jing herb.  I’m all about that bass-ic yin.  I like relaxing, I like breathing, I dislike excessive exertion, I dislike confrontation.  He shou wu is nourishing to the liver and kidneys.  It helps to cultivate strength, centeredness and dark hair (I’m still waiting on this one).  I find it keeps me calm and centered.

    He shou wu fits the conventional definition of a drug.  It’s one of the most potent publicly available MAOI-Bs.  MAOI stands for mono-amine oxidase inhibitor.  That means they slow the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters.  The “B” signifies that it’s not MAOI-A.  MAOI-A and MAOI-B work on different types of monoamines.  "A" primarily takes care of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline, "B" works mostly on dopamine and phenethylamine (PEA).  Keep this in mind next time you’re planning a tonic herb latte!  Interesting side-note, Theobroma cacao contains MAOI-Bs and PEA!

    When you’re looking to buy He shou wu, there are a few things to look for.  He shou wu is native to South Central China.  When you see herbs labeled as “di tao,” it means the plant material is sourced from its native region.  He shou wu should also be prepared.  Generally, it’s cooked down with black beans.  Black is the color representing Jing energy.  This process takes away a lot of the laxative effect of the raw root.  My understanding (let me know if I’m wrong) is that prepared he shou wu is a tonic, and unprepared is more medicinal, meaning it has it has value, but under more stringent circumstances.  I think the cooking process breaks down elements that we don’t want, while forming some that we do.  Those are the most important things I can think of.  Less important is deciding whether you want the actual root or an extract.  I enjoy both.  He shou wu tea has a really interesting resiny flavor.  I notice that good extracts usually have the sticky-resiny quality when mixed with a liquid, which I like.  

Prepared He Shou Wu Root

Prepared He Shou Wu Root

    I love Sun Potion’s products.  I’ve gotten to know Scott and Nitsa, but even before that, I was hooked on their stuff.  I knew it was great before I even tried it!  I was at Erewhon and saw my favorite herbs in Miron glass.  Miron glass is not cheap, so I knew someone would only use it to hold something very valuable.  I was right!  Shortly after I placed my first online order, I emailed to ask how their products are made.  Scott wrote me back saying that most are cold water extracts.  The material is mixed with water, and pressurized.  The pressure is then quickly released.  This is repeated several times, creating a cold water concentrate.  Some of the extracts are sprayed through hot air, which makes the extracts dissolve easily in water.  Some are sprayed back into the original whole plant powder.  They don’t use maltodextrin in any of their products.

  Here is what I’m currently drinking:

  • 200mL raw coconut water
  • 200mL of warm coffee brewed with distilled water
  • 1/2t Pine Pollen
  • 1/2t Eucommia Bark
  • 1/2t He Shou Wu

    I mixed the herbs with the coconut water, and poured the coffee over.  Coffee is a stimulant, which to me means it’s a delivery system.  It opens your body up and gets things moving.  It’s a perfect time to introduce a bunch of tonic herbs.  I think of the herbs as carrying little packets of information.  When I drink coffee and open myself up, those little packets have many more sites to “plug in” to my body.

    I’ll do a post all about coffee in the future.  I absolutely love coffee, and have as long as I can remember.  But I have to be careful, it can easily be too much for me.  It’s nice having it as a weekend ritual.

I hope you enjoyed!